In 1932, the designer Eva Zeisel was living in Berlin and, according to her grandmother, becoming “inebriated on amusements.” She worked for the Carstens factory and at home often gave large parties for all sorts of artists and intellectuals—her guests included the young physicists Leó Szilárd and Victor Weisskopf, the writers Anna Seghers and Arthur Koestler (a childhood friend), and two future husbands, Alex Weissberg and Hans Zeisel. Then rather suddenly one day she decided to “see what was behind the mountain.” A visit to Russia turned into five years there, the last sixteen months in prison, mostly in solitary confinement. She was caught in the early Stalinist purges and accused of plotting to kill Stalin.
According to her daughter Jean Richards, “For many years Eva did not want to make her prison experiences public (in part because she was afraid that the KGB would come after her in the U.S.—this fear was not far-fetched). When a friend read these memoirs, he found them disingenuous. He did not believe that one could write about such a serious situation with so much humor and charm. But that is Eva. She often saw herself from the outside. She felt like a tourist in life. This allowed her to see herself in a different, sometimes bemused way. All the details of Eva’s memories that we could check have been accurate.” Eva Zeisel's Prison Memoir appears in APS 14.
Memories of long ago are not true. They have been gilded by time, the way I remember them now, with love for my youth, sentimentally, of myself—slim and energetic, resistant, sad, alert. I speak of myself as much as of the things that happened to me. None of it is true, but I shall be precise reporting my memories.
It all started with mother bending over me to wake me up. It all ended with this. This, for a long time, was the end of my good life. Even today, my heart repudiates this memory bitterly. Even now, I think of this moment when my mother bent over me as one of the happiest of my life. I had slept particularly well, probably dreamed very happily, and when I saw her, I put my arms around her neck and we smiled at each other. It was only four o’clock in the morning, hardly light, and no time to get up.
The day before, I had been particularly cheerful. I do not remember why it was such a happy day. I had gone to the beauty parlor and had my nails manicured, my hair done, and a facial massage. I felt pretty when I got back to the office to have a meeting with my boss’s boss; there was a flirting atmosphere between him and me. It was May 27, 1936. I walked home through the park. There were people lying in reclining chairs, children playing. Everything seemed clean and friendly.
I do not remember the evening. Mother and I shared a room in the little apartment in Moscow we rented with my brother, his wife, and small child. After dinner together, we must have had a good evening before I went to bed. And now Mother was bending over me to wake me up. Mother was very pretty, but it was not customary between us that she was openly tender or loving. So her smile and maybe her kiss (this I forget) must have come as an unexpected present.
“Well,” Mother said, “there are some people here to see you.”Continue reading
“It had a great feeling of unreality. I mean, I was a designer of china; I was not in the business of killing Stalin. Imagine yourself! Most of the time I did not believe that I would have an opportunity to relate this to anybody. I really did not. There was very little probability that I would live; nobody wished me well.”
In her prison memoir, the designer Eva Zeisel describes her sixteen-month imprisonment, mostly in solitary confinement, in Russia, after being caught in early Stalinist purges and accused of plotting to kill Stalin.
I was drawn again and again to those places where the city had been cracked open and had not completely healed. Some of them, like the African Burial Ground and Trinity Church, were places I had written about in my novel Open City, but at which I still had unfinished business.
Teju Cole’s photographs of Lower Manhattan document the landscape beyond the actual site of the World Trade Center attacks, and serve to explore not only the present time, but also the “deep time… historical time” that crops up while walking down Wall Street.
The Rosencrantzes present The Tragedy of King Lear With sock puppets! Jacob played the king. Leah played all the daughters but was least convincing as the nice one. Eli played everybody else and directed and collected the tickets. Seventy-five cents per bumpkin…
An excerpt from Peter Orner’s novel Love and Shame and Love, forthcoming from Little, Brown in November.Continue reading